The Kennel Club is warning dog owners to be vigilant as the peak season for the Alabama rot disease sets in.
The condition, also known as Cutaneous and Renal Glomerular Vasculopathy, or CRGV, was first detected in the UK in 2012 and is most prevalent between November and May.
Only appearing to affect dogs, the disease damages the lining of blood vessels in the skin and kidney, resulting in ulceration of the skin and kidney damage.
The condition can affect any breed or age of dog and a proportion can go on to develop severe, acute kidney failure, which is often fatal.
Caroline Kisko, Kennel Club Secretary said: “Although the disease is very rare, affecting an extremely low percentage of dogs in the UK, the condition is very serious and potentially life-threatening. It is therefore vital that owners understand and recognise the warning signs, especially as time plays a significant part in successfully treating the disease.
“We are asking owners to look out for any signs of Alabama rot during the winter months and to remember to take action right away.
“Any dogs with unexplained or concerning skin lesions which typically look like sores, ulcers, or red, swollen, bruised areas, commonly with an infected appearance should be taken to their vet as soon as possible.
“These skin changes are usually found on their paws or lower legs, but may also appear on their head, face or lower body. Dogs who have contracted the disease may also become tired, disinterested in food, or present other signs of illness like vomiting or diarrhoea.
“Although these signs may not necessarily mean your dog has Alabama rot, acting quickly and speaking to a vet to determine what is wrong is the best course of action to protect your pet’s health.”
While large amounts of research has been carried out over the last six years, the cause of the disease remains unknown.
As yet, no evidence has been found to suggest that CRGV is caused by bacteria, viruses, fungi, toxins, or radiation.
There is speculation that it is related to mud or water, due to the higher prevalence in winter and spring, and relatively low case numbers seen in the summer.
Caroline continues: “To lower any risk of your dog contracting Alabama rot, it’s also advisable to keep your dog away from very muddy areas, wash wet or muddy dogs straight after a walk and regularly check your dog’s body for anything that’s different.
“While a distinct seasonal pattern is suggested, we must continue to research this deadly disease and ensure all dog owners are aware of the signs and symptoms so they are able to seek veterinary advice immediately.”